Do yourself a favor and get on down to the Palm Theatre to see "The Artist"" It's a wonderful conceit: a modern old-timey silent movie, a mash-up of every old, hoary Hollywood movie cliche in the book -- the meet-cute, true love thwarted, the Perils of Paul, Asta the Dog saves the day, true love revealed, boffo ending. All done with a wink and a nod. Too clever by half. And great fun.
Also too clever by half is another nearly silent movie -- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Gary Oldman is marvelous as George Smiley, all owlish eyes, watching, watching, and patiently finding and fitting one small piece of the puzzle after another. The film itself is as fragmented as a puzzle dumped out on a table, a muddle of fragments, brief scenes that mean nothing by themselves, intercut with more fragments of imagery, obscure bits of meaningless dialogue, and through it all, Smiley asking a question here, finding a document there, until all the bits and pieces slowly come together to reveal the mole that Smiley is hunting.
It's a clever bit of film making, all this cutting back and forth in time, from puzzle-bit to puzzle bit. But for me, it all quickly turned into a long, intricate shaggy dog story, a clever bit of business -- a film about making a hunt-for-a-spy film rather than a film about characters in peril, which means it's ultimately a film with no heart. By the time the mole is revealed, my response was, "Well, O.K., nicely done." And when the mole gets his just desserts, the only reaction I had was, "Well, no loss there. Now, let's go home." Which is a huge contrast to Le Carre's "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold." That movie (and book) was all character and peril and heartbreak in the ugly world of realpolitik.
Except I did feel a good deal of satisfaction when Smiley, inscrutable as ever, gets his job back -- vindicated as the master of a game played by vipers in an ugly world of secrets and sleazy betrayals.
If you're an Elmore Leonard fan, he's got a new book out ("Raylan") and season two (three?) of "Justified," is starting on FX with couple of great bad guys added to the cast. If they come close to his previous nemesis, the late, great apple-moonshine-making Mags, from last season, this year promises to be a great one. Actor Timothy Oliphant ("Raylan") is lucky to have both great screen writers and a fabulous supporting cast. And he's particularly lucky to have Walton Goggins ("Boyd Crowder") as his ongoing antagonist. Both Oliphant and Goggins, like early "NYPD Blue" David Caruso (before he went all fake poseur on "Miami Vice") or Ryan Gosling (in "Drive," or almost anything else he's done), are one of those rare actors you can't (don't dare) take your eyes off of because you have no idea what they're going to do next. It's a rare quality and has got to put all their fellow actors on their best game.
And finally, Performance of the Year, Political Class: Newt Gingrich's deliciously faux outrage while he feasted on debate moderator CNN's John King who dared to ask about Newt's performance in "My Three Wives; The Three-Way." Actually, Newt takes a Newtie (a fake gold statue given for Biggest Bold-Faced, Flat-Out, Flip-Flopping Lie" for just about anything he says and does.(" I am not a lobbyist; I'm a historian.") Plus he gets extra points for being absolutely without shame when uttering his 180's. In short, he's the Jon Lovitz of the political world -- the "fact" changing prevaricator of SNL who repeatedly, cheerfully, shamelessly, continually changed his story when his lies became untenable -- without missing a beat, Jon would switch one whopper with another equally improbable one until his whole tower of babble lies spun off into the realm of the pure comic.
For Jon, it was all comic gold. For Newt, his continued performance will depend on whether the voters remain oblivious to his Jon Lovitz act. It's just possible that Newt will tell one hilarious whopper too many and the voters will finally figure out he wasn't being intentionally funny, he was just plain old lying, and The Hook! The Hook! will fly out of the wings and yank him unceremoniously off stage. In comedy, as in politics, there must be a basic "truthiness" to the comic character you're creating -- lose that and you lose the audience. In comedy as in politics, timing is all.